Basketball

Japan coaches thinking long term for young hoop prospects

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

The next year and a half will arguably be the most important period in the history of Japanese basketball with the 2019 FIBA World Cup and 2020 Tokyo Olympics on the horizon.

But this country is also looking beyond that, trying to develop up-and-coming stars in order to achieve continuous success.

The Japan Basketball Association is currently hosting a development training camp mainly for younger hoopsters, which includes a few teenagers, at Tokyo’s National Training Center.

The camp kicked off on Thursday and will wrap up on June 23. The practices are run by Herman Mandole, who usually serves under head coach Julio Lamas as an assistant on the top-flight men’s national team.

Mandole said that the development training camp was intended to instruct participating players about the brand of basketball Japan plays. The Argentine also emphasized that the youngsters are asked to fully understand the importance of representing Japan, regardless of their backgrounds.

“I and Coach Lamas have stressed that once you put on the national flag on your chest, you have to be proud of that every tournament you play in,” Mandole said on Friday.

A few veterans, including San-en NeoPhoenix center Atsuya Ota and Alvark Tokyo guard Seiya Ando, are also on the squad, which consists of about 20 players.

Japan will compete at next month’s William Jones Cup in Taiwan. Mandole said that “six to eight players” from the development training camp team would be placed on the team for the international event.

Although the players put on practice jerseys and bibs with the letters of “Japan” on their chests, there was an international atmosphere on the court as several players of the team are biracial, with either their father or mother being non-Japanese.

Among them, Kai Toews and Chikara Tanaka are the most notable names. Toews, who finished his first season at the University of North Carolina Wilmington this spring, is thrilled with the opportunity to have been called up for the training camp. Toews said that he is eager to give “100 percent” during the practices, capitalizing on strengths that he developed in the United States. His father is BT Toews, a Canadian who is the head coach for the Fujitsu Red Wave of the Women’s Japan Basketball League.

The 188-cm point guard, who hopes to be a part of the Japan national team for the Tokyo Olympics, said that he would be able to provide athleticism and length as well as scoring ability to the squad.

Toews, 20, added that he would also be able to help the team being “a different type” of point guard from other players at the position like Yuki Togashi and Ryusei Shinoyama, both of whom are B. League veterans.

“I’m not necessarily thinking of becoming the starting point guard right away,” said the Kobe native, who led the Colonial Athletic Association in assists (7.7 per game) and was named a finalist for the conference’s top rookie award in the 2018-19 campaign. “But I can bring something different to the team.”

Tanaka is one of the under-20 players, along with Haruta Ogawa and Yuto Yamanouchi, but, like Toews, he is anxious to make the top national team sooner as well.

“There’s nobody that doesn’t want to make the Japanese national team,” said Tanaka, who finished his first season with Florida’s IMG Academy, a prep school that captured the high school national championship, of his sentiment to represent the country he had grown up in through junior high school. “There are others that could not be here, so just being here, I’m supposed to be aiming at it.”

Meanwhile, Mandole hinted that he, Lamas and the JBA want to take time to develop these younger players, without being in a rush to promote them to the top team in the near future. Mandole said that he wants the players to first concentrate on the ongoing development training camp and making the squad for the William Jones Cup before they are considered for inclusion on the A team.